“The truth about the world, he said, is that anything is possible. Had you not seen it all from birth and thereby bled it of its strangeness it would appear to you for what it is, a hat trick in a medicine show, a fevered dream, a trance bepopulate with chimeras having neither analogue nor precedent, an itinerant carnival, a migratory tentshow whose ultimate destination after many a pitch in a many a mudded field is unspeakable and calamitous beyond reckoning.” - Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West (1985)
Some of the best grind bands can be described by such adjectives as “unrelenting,” “piercing” and “destructive.” Those words speak to some of the most intriguing traits of the genre, and epitomize what I love about some of my favorite records. Yet every so often, a band like thedowngoing comes along and makes those adjectives seem quaint.
thedowngoing are noisegrind for the Discordance Axis set: relentlessly distorted and punishingly abrasive, yet technically adept enough that the noise and chaos remains a conscious artistic choice. As much of a car wreck as ATHOUSANDYEARSOFDARKNESS may at times seem, it’s all J.G. Ballard precision, not haphazard evening news violence.
“the nature of numbers” rides shifting, sideways riffing and blasting, always just short of being engulfed by a wake of noise. The brief “floorboards” opens on a tantalizing technical riff before stumble-twirling into a slower, heavy section that drunkenly moshes in and out of blasts before collapsing with one last scream of agony. That noise always nipping at the heels of other tracks fully submerges “untitled,” the record’s 8th track, instrumentation, vocals and samples rolling over each other and never quite gathering their bearings until they wash up onto the shore of feedback at the track’s end.
The duo weaves samples expertly into their already thick tapestry of grinding noise. Voices and sounds shamble into and out of focus like apparitions in dense fog, adding to the conscious discomfort of the band’s aesthetic. This sidesteps the worst pitfalls surrounding sampling, its use on songs like “Vacant Caves” rendering sampled material as elements of composition rather than filigree around the piece’s frame.
Much has been (justifiably) made of Mathias Huxley’s wall-climbingly insane vocal delivery by my fellow reviewers. Descriptions of its chaotic qualities, as well as its likeness to demonic possession, however apt, belie the Large Hadron Collider-like control required to sustain performances so seemingly unhinged and free of rational interference.
Cueing up Arsedestroyer’s Teenass Revolt or Swarrrm’s Nise Kyuseishu Domo (Thee Imitation Messiahs) or Black Bong next to tracks from this record will neatly underscore the difference between chaotic-sounding and truly chaotic, improvised vocal delivery. Those records sound chaotic due to the conditions they were written and recorded under; in contrast, Mathias’ vocals are chaos as a tool toward aesthetic cohesion.
Perusal of Huxley’s lyrics (included with the physical release or available on thedowngoing’s bandcamp) reveals a shattered, poetic, free-associative lyrical style that complements the insanity of his vocal style. On songs like “the nature of numbers,” Huxley recalls Eyehategod’s Mike Williams and his beautiful, Burroughs-indebted insanity: “a binary fascination scratching at the ones and naughts etched in my teeth and nails bleeding coalescent / a tectonic love circles dates months away while i spend new years eve doped up with the dogs.” Elsewhere, the seemingly relationship-related material on songs like “snakecharmer” echoes the disturbed, lovelorn obsessiveness of Pig Destroyer’s J.R. Hayes: “breaching my skin adrift a desert sea singing the hymns of decay / that charm the snakes that dance inside your eyes / now i stand an ancient ruin a relic to mourning you.”
The album’s physical release comes in the form of a handmade slimline cd. Its artwork and liner layout, though leaning toward the simplistic, manages to come off as pleasantly minimal and sidesteps the rampant garishness that the meeting of extreme music and the visual arts too often produces. The disc itself looks fantastic. Though it’s nothing more than a simple white disc hand-flecked with black paint, the final product epitomizes how DIY the release is, and the lack of a title mirrors the obscure, disorienting sounds coded onto it.
While only 3 songs and a few seconds longer than last year’s impressive Untitled EP, everything about ATHOUSANDYEARSOFDARKNESS feels more full, more complete and more thought-out, and worthy of the title of LP. Tighter songwriting and aesthetic cohesiveness means that this is their best put-together release to date, and the tightrope walk that goes on between noise and musicality makes it a must for fans of truly insane experimental grindcore.
The release can be found on the band's Bandcamp page in pay-as-you-want digital and as a physical release.
[Note: The band sent me a copy for review.]
[Note: The band sent me a copy for review.]